Monday, October 17, 2011

Quebec Separatism Essay

Quebec Separatism Essay

For centuries unique minority cultures have struggled for their rights as humans and as individuals. They have been oppressed and pushed into the background of society to become unrecognized by the rest of the world. In the twenty-first century it is thought that this kind of oppression has practically been abolished in Canada. Is it so? Quebec, which is the largest territorial province in Canada and is the only one to have adopted French as its official first language, has been struggling for its recognition for the last four centuries. In the last two decades alone, two referendums have been held by Quebec's government to gain recognition from the rest of the world as a distinctive province separated from the rest of Canada. The first, which was held in 1980 under the leadership of Rene Levesque, was a failure by a margin of 16.4%. The second, which was held fifteen years later in 1995 under the leadership of Jacques Parizeau, was also a disappointment for the separatists as they lost by a margin of only 1.2%. These two events have greatly impacted how Quebecers feel about the separatist movement and how the federal government responds to the possible separation of Canada. These defeats have done absolutely nothing to generate a Quebec separatist sprit amongst the province's population. Rather these two losses have done everything to bring the separatist movement to a practical stop and to make the federal government devise ways to keep its country intact.


Rene Levesque, premier of Quebec from 1976 to 1985, presented the Quebec National Assembly with a white paper proposal for a provincial referendum on August 24th 1977. After almost three years of very emotional debating and bitter negotiations, Levesque was finally able to set a date for the referendum. He announced on the 15th of April 1980 that the referendum campaign would last only 35 days and that the referendum would be held on the 20th of May 1980. As history has revealed Levesque lost the referendum by a margin of 16.4%. One of the main reasons why the Parti Quebecois was unable to gain public support for the separation of Quebec was that they were unable to assure the public of the future of an individual Quebec. The public feared that if Quebec were to leave Canada that they would be put in to economic turmoil.

Some advocates of unity warn that Quebec independence could gravely impair the province's economy. They say its long-term economic security may be jeopardized since the province would lose the financial support of the federal Canadian government during economic hard times. According to figures collected by Statistics Canada, Quebec receives more money in federal outlays than it pays to the federal government in taxes. In 1994, for example, Quebecers paid an estimated $30 billion in taxes, employment insurance premiums and other outlays to the federal government, but received $41 billion back in the form of pension payments, health and education money and other services. Quebec's secession from Canada could result in the loss of billions of dollars in federal funds, which may force Quebec to cut social and health programs.

This uncertainty of the future caused most undecided voters who came out to vote in the referendum to decide against sovereignty. English Quebecers took into account Bill 101 and felt that if Quebec were to successfully separate from the rest of Canada, that they would be discriminated against and that their language rights would not be respected.

Consequently, the majority of English Quebecers decided against sovereignty. The loss of the 1980 Quebec referendum let the federal government sigh in relief, but they knew that something would have to be done to assure the unity of Canada. Therefore, on the 22nd of May 1980, two days after the Quebec referendum, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau announced a new round of talks would begin between the provincial and territorial leaders to rewrite the Canadian Constitution.

Jacques Parizeau, premier of Quebec from 1994 to 1995, is an extremist sovereign who called for a provincial referendum in 1995 to negotiate Quebec's political future with Canada. The question that he formed for the public was, "Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign, after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership, within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995? Yes/No."

His question was argued to be confusing, and misleading to the public. Although debated, the format of the question was unchanged and the referendum went on as scheduled on the 30th of October 1995. Once again the "NO" side prevailed. This time however, it was only by a slim margin of 1.2%. Parizeau, in a speech on the 31st of October, blamed the loss of the referendum on the money and ethnic vote. His comments would force him to resign his position as premier of Quebec the following day. The loss of the referendum was not only because of the money and the ethnic vote, but also because of the votes of many francophone Quebecers. They believe that if Quebec were to separate from the rest of Canada that French would halt to be recognized by Canada as an official language and would therefore become extinct from the other provinces. The federal government, after having witnessed the close defeat of the referendum, continued talks with Quebec to rewrite the Canadian Constitution to make the Province feel welcomed by the entirety of the country. To get rid of the threat of possibly having Quebec separate from Canada because of a small majority vote in a future referendum, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a ruling in 1998 that stated Quebec could not become a sovereign state without first negotiating the terms with the other provinces and the federal government.

The referendum defeats of 1980 and 1995 for Quebec have been looked upon by the people of Quebec as a slap in their provinces face. They know that each time she is offered her freedom she is shamed by being denied it. Support for a sovereign Quebec has dropped because of these defeats. A poll taken in 1999 revealed that 70% of Quebecers do not want another referendum.

The current premier of Quebec, Bernand Laundry, has stated many times that he will hold a referendum to determine Quebec's future with Canada. Laundry may just end up like Levesque or Parizeau, an extremist sovereign politician who, wanting to free Quebec, just imprisons his land further.

Rene Levesque and Jacques Parizeau were both unable to bring their dreams of a separate Quebec into the real world. However, their efforts were capable of making the federal government respond to the wants of Quebec. They both successfully brought the rest of Canada to realize that some sort of action would have to be taken. The downside to their defeats has been the fall in support of separatism. Will Quebec ever become an independent nation? Only time will time will tell. As for the current polls they suggest she wont.

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